MALCOLM FORBES: The Man Who Had Everything by Christopher Winans

MALCOLM FORBES: The Man Who Had Everything

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A diligent reporter's gossipy but temperate appreciation of the bon vivant who made conspicuous consumption a media event that served his commercial purposes. Malcolm Forbes liked to say that he owed his affluence and eminence to ""sheer ability--spelled i-n-h-e-r-i-t-a-n-c-e."" As Wall Street Journal correspondent Winans makes clear, however, there was a good deal more to the story than this disingenuous shtick might suggest. When Princeton-educated Forbes gained control of the family firm in 1964, it comprised little more than Forbes, a financial publication that trailed both Business Week and Fortune in earnings as well as influence. By dint of a willingness to back his own judgment and a sharp eye for editorial talent, he turned an also-ran trade magazine into a sassy, lucrative product that was must-reading for corporate chieftains and their subordinates. The ad-packed biweekly became the keystone property in a billion-dollar empire that also encompassed vast real-estate holdings, other periodicals (notably, American Heritage), and a wealth of attention-grabbing collectibles, e.g., FabergÉ eggs and toy soldiers. Able to mix business with pleasure to an enviable degree, the enterprising capitalist used Forbes as a launching pad to achieve personal celebrity. Invariably, though, his pretentious parties and adult toys--hot-air balloons, motorcycles, yachts, etc.--served as means to promote mercantile ends beyond mere enjoyment. Forbes' flamboyant life style overshadowed his homosexuality, an open secret he was at no particular pains to conceal. With commendable restraint, Winans simply notes the irony of the fawning coverage the tabloid press accorded Forbes' squiring of Elizabeth Taylor and offers anecdotal examples of how lieutenants coached handsome young male employees to respond to his advances. Nor does the author essay more than cursory analysis of what made the obviously complex Forbes run, let alone a most happy fellow. In brief, then, dirt-dishing intelligence largely unburdened by insights on a high-profile contemporary whose charisma owed more to calculation than temperament.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's